Until 2005 Kiden Salome had black skin but then she moved to Khartoum where she said she felt too dark in comparison to locals. She began to bleach her skin, joining a growing number of women using skin creams to artificially lighten their complexions.
Salome said she is encouraged by her husband Luke Dominic: He even some times buys for me the cream for bleaching, he is now very happy with the brown colour.”
My boyfriend Jimmy Loron told me to bleach.”
Poni Gune Shamera, from Juba, agreed that there was social pressure to use the skin creams, saying that it was hard to get a husband without lighter skin. My boyfriend Jimmy Loron told me to bleach so that I can compete with East African, West African and Arab girls who are considered as the most beautiful girls in Juba city,” she said.
But the range of side effects triggered by bleaching are less well known. In 2003, Dr. S. Allen Counter of Harvard Medical School blamed skin lightening creams for the higher levels of mercury found in people, but particularly women, from Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, West Africa, and in Tanzania in East Africa. High levels of mercury are related to brain and kidney damage, and may spark psychiatric disorders and severe birth defects.
The creams also reduce the amount of melanin in the skin, meaning people are vulnerable to UV rays and thus at risk of skin cancer.
Speaking to officials in Central Equatoria State Ministry of Social Welfare, Betty Sunday Abraham said bleaching is commonplace across South Sudan, especially in Central- and Eastern Equatoria states.
Scopas Duku, a man who works at the State Ministry of Agriculture urged for the practice to stop. He explained how his wife Marta Lokiri bleached her skin and when she went to hospital to give birth to baby, her light skin impeded the doctors from carrying out a necessary operation, leading to the death of their baby.
Why can’t we be happy with our dark skinned colour?”
Schools also report that girls often bleach their skin, sometimes copying the trend among female teachers. Recently the Juba Day School took action against the increasing numbers of girls flaunting the school rules and suspended twenty-four girls for bleaching their skin.
Dr. Kuron Michael of Juba Teaching Hospital said skin lightening creams are especially dangerous for pregnant women and HIV positive women.
Dr. Kuron added, for pregnant women, it sometimes affect the baby’s skin and the babies are at greater risk of catching malaria in the first few months of their lives.
He said he wished the government would ban the practice: Why can’t we be happy with our dark skinned colour?” Dr. Kuron asked.